“Him is he who bays and slavers forever outside time and space, who shambled down out of the stars when Earth was new and spawned abominations in the seas and blights upon the land. Woe to man when He comes again. To gaze upon his form is to invite madness. That is why in order to serve Him I chose to make some adjustments. Him, The Lurker is on the threshold, and behold, He is coming…”
The latest release from the Warner Brothers animation team in the world of DC Comics is Batman: Doom That Came To Gotham. This series of animated films is no longer part of any shared universe as the many that came before might have been. At least for now these animated adventures are standalone stories, often with their own atmosphere and universe. That’s certainly true of Batman: Doom That Came To Gotham. This is likely the most uniquely-styled entry in the series of animated feature films.
It’s the 1920’s. Bruce Wayne (Giuntoli) is mounting an expedition to St. Bay Station in Antarctica. It appears a certain Professor Oswald Cobblepot (Salyers) made camp here on their own scientific exploration and were never heard from again. Now Bruce Wayne along with Dick Greyson (Marsden), Kai Li Cain (Gabrielle) and redshirt Sanjay Tawde (Brar) are trying to find out what happened. They come upon the frozen camp where mutilated bodies decorate the wasteland. Bruce finds Cobblepot’s journal, and it leads him to a cave where they discover the zombie-like Grendon (Dastmalchain), who is spouting a litany of madness about a powerful evil that is coming. Of course, they blow up the cave and figure it’s all done with, eventually returning to Gotham City after an apparent 20-year absence.
It’s the 1920’s, and this is a very different Gotham City. And the film has a style all its own. The death of Wayne’s parents is now part of this supernatural story. It seems that Thomas Wayne and other Gotham founders was hundreds of years old when he and his wife were murdered for the evil bargain they had made in order to have immortality. Now it’s time to pay the bill, and we run into strange incarnations of Harvey Dent (Fabian) and other well-known characters, all tied here to that great evil. Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Gorham), who as Oliver Queen is a dead ringer for Teddy Roosevelt complete with that “Bully” expression, but as Green Arrow is decked out like a Knight’s Templar complete with arrows blessed by Saint Sebastian. I’m not sure about the arrows, but Sebastian sure makes a really good red wine over in St. Augustine. Of course, we still have a pretty traditional Alfred (George), Jim Gordan (DiMaggio), and Lucius Fox (Russ), but look out for the supernatural incantations and evil doings of Father and daughter Ra’s al Ghul (Neghaban) and Talia al Ghul (O’Brien). This is devil worship and the bringing-forth-of-demons-from-Hell kind of stuff. Batman gets his necessary information from the journal of Dr. Kirk Langstrom, who in the comics played a guy who turns into an evil big bat called Man Bat. See how they did that? The journal is voiced by Jefferey Combs, who has a really close association to these kinds of stories, and his performance is hands down the best voice work in the film.
Finally Batman has the confrontation with the multi-tentacle beast who intends to rule here. His only chance of beating it is to become a supernatural creature himself, and we end up with one hell of a fight … literally.
The film is based on the three-issue Elseworlds line. That’s pretty much like Marvel’s What If series. The series each portray a standalone tale, making drastic changes to the canon to tell stories from a new perspective. This comic story was created by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace. It was illustrated by Troy Nixey (pencils) and Dennis Janke (ink). If this all sounds very much like a Lovecraft nightmare, it’s with good reason. The original story was inspired by that writer’s Doom That Came To Sarnath. The Lovecraft atmosphere is everywhere in this film. The beasts both good and evil are direct mock-ups of many of Lovecraft’s most iconic designs. Batman’s costume includes a cape that is multi-layered, much like the cloak that Barnabas Collins is so well known for. You won’t mistake this for any other version of Batman you have seen on any screen. Not even Tim Burton is this atmospheric. It stains the very fabric of the image with every frame.
Batman: Doom That Came To Gotham is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 70 mbps. Because of the atmosphere in the intended style, there really aren’t any bright colors to speak of. Yes, there are flashes when we see the fires of Hell or one of the glowing creatures. Most of the film is pretty close to monochromatic with subtle shades to give us the shadow definition to be able to enjoy the film. Honestly, I took a look at the Blu-ray, and it was actually horrible at this. So the UHD is really your only choice if you hope to experience what’s going on here. It’s the deep blacks that give us our only hope of seeing half of what’s going on here.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track might appear at first as a disappointment. I really like to see Atmos on these UHD releases. That’s not so vital here. The audio presentation is as reserved as the color on the image. The presentation is strictly here to serve the dialog, which it does well. There are some emotional moments in the score that are not missed, and with all of this supernatural stuff going on there is some subtle atmosphere in the surrounds. Mostly we’re talking fire or wind, but it’s just enough to keep us engaged. There isn’t a lot of bottom here, and there were certainly places it would have improved things, but I honestly don’t think a lot of thought went into the audio presentation. Certainly not as much as the image.
There is an Audio Commentary from four of the filmmakers that I found a bit dry.
The extras are found on the Blu-ray copy.
Batman – Shadows Of Gotham: (13:12) Odd collection of input from crew and a psychologist along with some mockumentary moments make this a bit out there, but there’s some good insight into that Lovecraft style and atmosphere.
From The Vault: You get both Parts 1 & 2 from the Batman: The Animated Series episode The Demon Quest.
There are also “previews” of films already released.
As much as I love classic horror both in film and in literature, I must admit I’ve never really taken to the works of Lovecraft. I find him difficult to follow, and the supernatural creatures appear more something out of a bad LSD trip than actually horrifying. I did, however, rather like the style blend with this alternative version of Batman. It’s rather nice to see DC experimenting with the Elseworlds titles, and I encourage more of that in the future. It’s not like it doesn’t exactly fit in. As you know, “Gotham always had its fair share of wingnuts.“